Treatment of 1 microM wheat-germ aspartate transcarbamoylase with 1 mM-pyridoxal 5'-phosphate caused a rapid loss of activity, concomitant with the formation of a Schiff base. Complete loss of activity occurred within 10 min when the Schiff base was reduced with a 100-fold excess of NaBH4. Concomitantly, one amino group per chain was modified. No further residues were modified in the ensuing 30 min. The kinetics of inactivation were examined under conditions where the Schiff base was reduced before assay. Inactivation was apparently first-order. The pseudo-first-order rate constant, kapp., showed a hyperbolic dependence upon the concentration of pyridoxal 5'-phosphate, suggesting that the enzyme first formed a non-covalent complex with the reagent, modification of a lysine then proceeding within this complex. Inactivation of the enzyme by pyridoxal was 20 times slower than that by pyridoxal 5'-phosphate, indicating that the phosphate group was important in forming the initial complex. Partial protection against pyridoxal phosphate was provided by the leading substrate, carbamoyl phosphate, and nearly complete protection was provided by the bisubstrate analogue, N-phosphonoacetyl-L-aspartate, and the ligand-pair carbamoyl phosphate plus succinate. Steady-state kinetic studies, under conditions that minimized inactivation, showed that pyridoxal 5'-phosphate was also a competitive inhibitor with respect to the leading substrate, carbamoyl phosphate. Pyridoxal 5'-phosphate therefore appears to be an active-site-directed reagent. A sample of the enzyme containing one reduced pyridoxyl group per chain was digested with trypsin, and the labelled peptide was isolated and shown to contain a single pyridoxyl-lysine residue. Partial sequencing around the labelled lysine showed little homology with the sequence surrounding lysine-84, an active-centre residue of the catalytic subunit of aspartate transcarbamoylase from Escherichia coli, whose reaction with pyridoxal 5'-phosphate shows many similarities to the results described in the present paper. Arguably the reactive lysine is conserved between the two enzymes whereas the residues immediately surrounding the lysine are not. The same conclusion has been drawn in a comparison of reactive histidine residues in the two enzymes [Cole & Yon (1986) Biochemistry 25, 7168-7174].